Deshaun Watson is Amazing. Alabama won the game, but this was my biggest takeaway from the game. I spend most of the season watching him play well thinking, “yeah, he’s good,” but I don’t think Clemson would have been in the game without him. They wouldn’t have made it to the national championship game without him. He is that important to that team, and Clemson is a team filled with NFL talent. The Tigers would probably have won 10 or 11 games with a good, but not great, quarterback. That’s the difference Watson made. Because of Watson Clemson was in the game in the sense that they had a chance to win. How much did Watson matter, well…
Alabama stopped Clemson? Bear with me for a minute because this isn’t going to sound quite right, but Alabama stopped Clemson’s offense. Now, that’s not exactly right. Clemson put up over 500 yards of offense and 40 points; that’s not stopped. What Alabama did do is take away the basics of the Clemson offense. The Tigers like to put pressure on the edge. They didn’t really have success then. Then they like to run inside. That wasn’t very successful at all. Then they go deep.
The Tide took away Clemson’s first two options most of the night. On many of pass plays receivers were covered. So, if Alabama stopped all these Clemson offensive tactics, how did the Tigers put up 40 points and 500 yards? Deshaun Watson. How many times did he drop back to pass, find his receivers covered and run for a first down? How many times on third down? How many passes did he complete to receivers that were pretty covered? His value cannot be overstated.
Clemson stopped Alabama? The Tigers committed to stopping the run. They held Heisman winner Derrick Henry to 158 yards. That doesn’t sound good, but it was only 4.4 yard per carry, much less than he was used to this season. There was a price to stopping Henry though. That price was OJ Howard. The talented, but little used tight end was wide open most of the night, and he piled up 200+ yards receiving. It seemed that Clemson’s defenders played run first and, somehow, when they transitioned into pass coverage missed the tight end. That was a difference in the game.
Coker. Speaking of differences in the game, look at Jake Coker. In the first half he refused to step up in the pocket and held the ball way too long en route to several sacks. The Clemson pass rush was potent, but Coker helped by not throwing the ball away when he could. In the second half he made fewer mistakes and torched the defense to the tune of 335 yards.
The Alabama Slow Bleed. Across the board Alabama is the most talented team in the country nearly every year, and they play a style of football designed to make that talent differential come to bear. They play strong, suffocating defense that usually breaks opposing offenses. Clemson’s never really broke, a credit to the Tigers.
The Alabama offense just leans on you. They run the ball with zone and power looks and throw off of it. Their players, the line in particular, are so talented that you have to be at your best to keep up with them. Clemson did that, for a while. Then as often happens, when the game gets late, players get worn down. They get out of position. They try to compensate for the talent gap and become schematically unsound. OJ Howard is then wide open on the post. They try to crash inside to stop the run, and then they miss a tackle on the edge. Another Howard big gain. Usually it happens early in the second half, like it did against Michigan State. Clemson didn’t let it happen until late in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately for them, it did end up happening, and that was the difference.